Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Boys of Summer

In my last post, which was apparently the first in an accidental tangentially music-themed self-help series, the ghost of Beatles past told me not to worry so much about my prose (or something.) Today, Don Henley has this handy tip for getting first drafts done in a timely fashion: “Don’t look back – you can never look back.”

When it comes to first drafts, I ain’t historically the speediest of writers. I have a tendency to comb over a chapter until I’m completely satisfied with it before I can bring myself to move on, which means my completed first draft is pretty clean, but getting across the finish line’s like pulling teeth.

Two weeks ago, I began work on a new book. I’d like to have a first draft done by the end of the calendar year. Factor in the Day Job, the pending release of DEAD HARVEST, and THE WRONG GOODBYE to edit, and that’s a pretty ambitious timeline. So to stick with it, I turned to that most polarizing of writing tools: the outline.

Some writers outline everything. Some never outline. My approach to outlines is more situational (read: haphazard). THE ANGELS’ SHARE I outlined. DEAD HARVEST and THE WRONG GOODBYE, not so much. The new book, I’m kinda sorta outlining, by which I mean I’ve got maybe the first third of it outlined, and I’ve already started writing. I know the broad strokes of where the story’s going, but I plan to keep on outlining a little ways ahead of where I’m writing until I finish – as well as updating the outline-sketches of the chapters I’ve already written to reflect any details that may’ve changed. The former affords me the luxury of knowing the beats of a scene before I sit down to flesh it out, which cuts down on pointless noodling, and the latter provides me with a document I can use to confirm what’s come before to inform what comes next, without getting bogged down trying to iron out the prose every time I need to peek back. And if you ask me, it's the latter that makes the outlining worthwhile, which may make me the first writer ever to use an outline predominantly as a rear-view mirror. Or maybe this is something all serious outliners are hep to – but if that's the case, those sneaky bastards are mighty tight-lipped about it.

Maybe this little experiment of mine will prove a failure, but so far (knock wood), it’s working great. I won’t allow myself to read any chapters once they’re finished; if I need to know a name or date or salient detail, it’d better be on the outline. If it’s not, I’ll fix it in the second draft. And I’m writing faster than I ever have before – not to mention, having more fun. This weird hybrid method of mine is just the safety net my subconscious needs to soldier on without too much painful self-reflection, so I can just sit back, and watch the story unfold.

But of course, the real test will be how the finished draft looks...